the Cherries

Once the coffee has been picked, processing must begin as quickly as possible to prevent spoilage. Depending on location and local resources, coffee is processed in one of three ways.

The Dry Method

This is the age-old method of processing coffee and is still used in many countries where water resources are limited. The freshly picked cherries are simply spread out on huge surfaces to dry in the sun. In order to prevent the cherries from spoiling, they are raked and turned throughout the day, then covered at night, or if it rains, to prevent them from getting wet. Depending on the weather, this process might continue for several weeks for each batch of coffee. When the moisture content of the cherries drops to 11 percent, the dried cherries are moved to warehouses where they are stored

The Wet Method

Generally, the wet process involves washing the pulp of the coffee cherries to reveal the coffee beans. Wet processing is often used to reduce the acidity in gourmet coffees; this results in a balanced coffee with a vibrant and almost fruity essence.

Here are two ways that the wet process method can be done:

Ferment and wash method: In this process, the pulp is broken down by microbes when the cherries are fermented. The fermentation process breaks down the cellulose in the pulp to release the coffee beans. The cherries are then washed to separate the coffee beans from the pulp.

Machine assisted wet processing: In this process, the cherries are mechanically scrubbed until they break apart and the coffee beans are released.

After the coffee beans have been separated, they are ready to be dried.

The Honey method

The Honey process is the most difficult and demanding of all to execute well. The coffee is pulped, then spread out to dry without washing, leaving some of the pulp on the beans. The beans must be spread thinly on purpose built drying beds, and turned hourly during the 10-15 days required to become stable. The reward for success is a coffee with the fine elegant attributes of a top washed coffee, coupled with the more substantial body and fruit sweetness of a natural. The honey process has been greatly refined in Central America to include white, yellow, red and black styles, which are defined by the percentage of flesh left behind after pulping, and the weather conditions while drying.


Drying the Beans

If the beans have been processed by the wet method, the pulped and fermented beans must now be dried to approximately 11 percent moisture to properly prepare them for storage. These beans, still encased inside the parchment envelope (the endocarp), can be sun dried by spreading them on drying tables or floors, where they are turned regularly, or they can be machine dried in large tumblers. Once dried, these beans, referred to as 'parchment coffee,' are warehoused in sisal or jute bags until they are readied for export.

Milling the Beans

Before it is exported, parchment coffee is processed in the following manner:

Hulling - Machines are used to remove the parchment layer (endocarp) from wet processed coffee. Hulling dry processed coffee refers to removing the entire dried husk -- the exocarp, mesocarp & endocarp -- of the dried cherries.

Polishing - This is an optional process in which any silver skin that remains on the beans after hulling is removed in a polishing machine. While polished beans are considered superior to unpolished ones, in reality there is little difference between the two.

Grading & Sorting - Before being exported, the coffee beans will be even more precisely sorted by size and weight. They will also be closely evaluated for color flaws or other imperfections.

Exporting the Beans

The milled beans, now referred to as 'green coffee,' are ready to be loaded onto ships for transport to the importing country. Green coffee is shipped in either jute or sisal bags which are loaded into shipping containers, or it is bulk shipped inside plastic-lined containers. Approximately seven million tons of green coffee is produced worldwide each year.



Roasting the Coffee

Roasting transforms green coffee into the aromatic brown beans that we purchase, either whole or already ground, in our favorite stores. Most roasting machines maintain a temperature of about 550 degrees Fahrenheit. The beans are kept moving throughout the entire process to keep them from burning and when they reach an internal temperature of about 400 degrees, they begin to turn brown and the caffeol, or oil, locked inside the beans begins to emerge.

This process, called pyrolysis is at the heart of roasting. It is what produces the flavor and aroma of the coffee we drink. When the beans are removed from the roaster, they are immediately cooled either by air or water. Roasting is generally performed in the importing countries because freshly roasted beans must reach the consumer as quickly as possible

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